Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Casual discussion amongst spiritual friends.

Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Feb 12, 2010 7:12 am

Scientists have identified areas of the brain that, when damaged, lead to greater spirituality.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/lin ... inthebrain
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby Ben » Fri Feb 12, 2010 8:31 am

As I said in the other thread, their idea of spirituality and what I consider spirituality are two different things.
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Feb 12, 2010 8:37 am

Ben wrote:As I said in the other thread, their idea of spirituality and what I consider spirituality are two different things.
Oh, I don't know. It seems rather than all those austere hours on the cushion, one might just the part of one's head a good whack with a hammer. A bit of pain at first, but if the right amount of brain damage is inflicted - god (or whatever).
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
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Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby Ben » Fri Feb 12, 2010 8:49 am

The problem is that the spiritual paradigm that the researchers are testing seems to correlate with the spirituality of the Na'vi from Avatar.
To me, the researcher's basic assumptions of what spirituality is, appears to be erroneous.
No doubt, they'll pathologize spirituality, or their version of it, and we'll see it in a future edition of DSM.
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Feb 12, 2010 8:59 am

Ben wrote:The problem is that the spiritual paradigm that the researchers are testing seems to correlate with the spirituality of the Na'vi from Avatar.
To me, the researcher's basic assumptions of what spirituality is, appears to be erroneous.
No doubt, they'll pathologize spirituality, or their version of it, and we'll see it in a future edition of DSM.
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Whatever the basis of the actual research, I rather doubt the news article is doing it any justice, thusly it is a bit silly, thusly, funny.

As for the spirituality of the Na'vi, beats the bejezuz out somethings I could point to.
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby Ben » Fri Feb 12, 2010 9:02 am

Point away, my friend!
But no rush...I;m going off for a bit of self-induced brain damage.
Cheers

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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Feb 12, 2010 9:09 am

Ben wrote:Point away, my friend!
But no rush...I;m going off for a bit of self-induced brain damage.
Cheers

Ben
"I could point to," but being ever so polite and sensitive and thoughtful, I shan't.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby Sanghamitta » Fri Feb 12, 2010 10:25 am

I bet I can guess.
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby appicchato » Fri Feb 12, 2010 11:55 am

tiltbillings wrote:...a good whack with a hammer.


That's what I was thinking... :rolleye:
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Feb 12, 2010 1:52 pm

appicchato wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:...a good whack with a hammer.


That's what I was thinking...

Maxwell's Silver Hammer, no doubt.
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This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
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Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby Kare » Fri Feb 12, 2010 4:40 pm

If you have a wall near by, here is how to enter into the first jhana:

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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby meindzai » Fri Feb 12, 2010 4:54 pm

I agree with Ben, and actually I have had trouble with the word "Spiritual" for awhile as it relates to Buddhism. I'll use it in context becuase it's what people understand. But really, it's kind of a nonsense word since we're not dealing with spirits of any kind. The trascendental "woo-woo" type experiences reported by mystical types or usually downplayed in Buddhism as a distraction to the path. I'd say the word "transcendental" does apply in that we are transcending samsara, but I that most people use it to refer to some super-spiritual-orgasm thing. Buddhism seems to be more about what Thanissaro Bhikkhu refers to as normalcy - something that doesn't sell a lot of books.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:"Sometimes you read that in the stages of insight you get into weird
psychophysical experiences. Those descriptions are designed by people who are
trying to sell a particular kind of meditation. You're going off to spend a week
where you want to have something to show for it, something you can talk about
when you return. It's hard to tell your friends, "You know, I maintained my mind
in a state of normalcy for the entire week." It doesn't impress anybody. But
you're not here to impress people; you're not here to impress yourself. You're
here to see things clearly. The best way to see things clearly is to get the
mind into a state of stillness.

We tend to think of the stages of jhana as very strong trance states, but
actually they're the mind in a state of genuine normalcy where it's very
perceptive, very clearly perceiving things as they are, as they come as they go,
able to see distinctions. That's what we're working on, trying to keep the mind
in a state of normalcy, as with all the elements of the path. The qualities of
the path are things we've already experienced, things we've already tasted. It's
simply that we haven't seen the strength they can develop if they're made
continuous, if they're made all-around. This state of centered, clear normalcy
in the mind, if you could really maintain it, would build up a lot of strength."


http://www.dhammatalks.org/Archive/Writings/CrossIndexed/Uncollected/ePublished%20Dhamma%20Talks/070609%20Normalcy.pdf

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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby IanAnd » Fri Feb 12, 2010 7:04 pm

meindzai wrote:Buddhism seems to be more about what Thanissaro Bhikkhu refers to as normalcy — something that doesn't sell a lot of books.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:"We tend to think of the stages of jhana as very strong trance states, but
actually they're the mind in a state of genuine normalcy where it's very
perceptive, very clearly perceiving things as they are, as they come as they go,
able to see distinctions.
That's what we're working on, trying to keep the mind
in a state of normalcy, as with all the elements of the path. The qualities of
the path are things we've already experienced, things we've already tasted. It's
simply that we haven't seen the strength they can develop if they're made
continuous, if they're made all-around. This state of centered, clear normalcy
in the mind, if you could really maintain it, would build up a lot of strength.
"


Excellent quote from Thanissaro Thera. This is exactly how I would describe what one is endeavoring to achieve using Buddhist meditation techniques and training.

Unfortunate that it doesn't sell more books because when one actually is able to achieve this "state of normalcy," as Thanissaro characterizes it, it changes one's perspective on the world and life in general. One stops looking for or toward authorities (either secular or religious) to guide one and, rather, becomes one's own authority for self-guidance, which is what the Buddha was after in his practice and teaching of ultimate "liberation" through the use of the Dhamma. (The word "self" here referring to the "relative and conventional self" of worldly endeavor, just to clarify for those Buddhist purists out there.)
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby zavk » Sun Feb 14, 2010 12:21 pm

Ben wrote:As I said in the other thread, their idea of spirituality and what I consider spirituality are two different things.


meindzai wrote:But really, it's kind of a nonsense word since we're not dealing with spirits of any kind.


Ooohh.. 'spirituality', a pet subject of mine--a subject I've been researching for some two years now. So WARNING: long rambling posts ahead!

Heh.... but yeah, you're right, Ben and meindzai. 'Spirituality' or the idea of 'the spiritual' is a vague, amorphous concept that can and has been used to mean many things and nothing all at once. The malleability of the term--its ever shifting boundaries--is what allows it to be misused and exploited. Yet, it is this same malleability that gives it its transformative, and even, revolutionary possibilities.

'Spirituality' can be described as a 'Humpty Dumpty' word:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things.


However, an important point to note here is not the fact that a word can be used to mean many things, or that one can give many meanings to a word. The important point is:

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master – that's all."


What this suggests is that that these sorts of research are not simply uncovering the 'true', 'original' or 'authentic' meaning of spirituality. Rather, in claiming to make 'discoveries' about spirituality, they are actually shaping the meaning of spirituality around a 'master' set of ideas, around a particular outlook--in this case, a predominantly medico-neuroscientific one. And whatever set of meaning is attributed to 'the spiritual', it is never neutral. It would always be skewed towards some interest or another. In this instance, we see 'the spiritual' being cast as a kind of pathology, as a kind of illness. Should such a view of spirituality become dominant, there would be real social, cultural, and political implications.....

Anyway, it's kinda late. I'll post again tomorrow or when I have the time. I think it would be interesting if we look at how the notion of 'spirituality' has evolved since its inception (the word first appeared in French as spiritualité around the 17th century). Different parties have attempted to shape 'spirituality' around different 'master' sets of meanings, and each of these attempts have produced interesting consequences, some positive some negative.

Buddhism, as we understand it today, has been influenced by some of these attempts to shape 'spirituality'. It has, particularly, been influenced by those attempts at the turn of the twentieth century to articulate the notion of 'Eastern spirituality' over and against Christianity, which was on the decline in Western societies.
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby Avery » Sun Feb 14, 2010 9:31 pm

There are many Westerners who say that they tried Buddhism and "experienced enlightenment/satori" but it didn't work for them... maybe this is what's being talked about.

That's what happens when D.T. Suzuki says satori is a flash of insight :?
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby Ben » Mon Feb 15, 2010 1:30 am

Avery wrote:There are many Westerners who say that they tried Buddhism and "experienced enlightenment/satori" but it didn't work for them...


Like New Coke?

I would say that they didn't experience enlightenment if that is their response.
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby zavk » Mon Feb 15, 2010 5:21 am

So, rambling on a little further... I'll sketch very briefly a genealogy of spirituality here. Avert your eyes if this bores anyone. :)

A brief comment on 'genealogy': When we chart a genealogy, we trace our lineages and history in order to understand how our predecessors lived, how our family tree evolved, and how we've inherited traits--good or bad, if any--from our ancestors. However, even if we inherit any traits from our ancestors, it is not our 'destiny'. Rather, with an understanding of our genealogy we might gain a better perspective on how to 'steer' our lives. In a similar way, a genealogy of 'spirituality' can be quite insightful.

    - As I have mentioned, 'spirituality' is a fairly modern term which did not appear till about the 17th century. However, the notion of 'the spirit/spiritual' had been around since early Christianity--that is around Hellenistic times. In early biblical usage, the Latin word spiritualitas (which is from spiritus--'the breath of life') was contrasted with caro or carnal life. In Greek, it was pneuma (life in the 'Spirit of God') vs. sarx (life of the 'flesh';). This opposition between the two terms did not refer to a mind-body dualism but rather to a moral code. It pointed to a way of life involving the disciplining of the flesh--a controlling of sensual desires. I think it is quite evident that this element of 'the spiritual' would continue to resonate in later usages. Such a interpretation of the spiritual has its usefulness, I think.

    - Hellenistic Christianity also used 'the spiritual' to make a moral-political distinction in the assertion of scriptural truth and revelation. The 'spiritual' is used to refer to the timeless meaning of the scriptures as opposed to the material or conventional meanings. Such a theme would continue to resonate with us when people today appeal to the 'spirit' rather than the 'letter' of the law--although when we say 'spirit' we are not necessarily appealing to the spirit of God.

    - By the medieval period, we see the 'spiritual' being used to assert territorial rights: A distinction was made between ‘Lord’s spiritual’ and the ‘Lord’s temporal’ to distinguish between property owned by the Church and that owned by the king. Around this time, Ignatius of Loyola (founder of what would become the Jesuits) also contrasted 'spiritual exercises'--interiorised contemplative practices of the soul—from everyday bodily exercises.

[FYI, this is a very broad summary of Walter Principe's essay of 1983, 'Toward Defining Spirituality'.]

Ignatius' interiorising of 'the spiritual' is an important precursor to the modern understanding of 'spirituality'. I'll elaborate on the modern usage of the term in another post. But from these examples, we can see that notion of 'the spiritual' evolved against changing historical contexts. Whatever 'the spiritual' might be, it always arose dependently upon changing conditions.

What becomes evident is that 'the spiritual' is never a free-floating or transcendental idea but is always implicated in--always produced out of--social struggles, relations of power and contestations.
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby Paññāsikhara » Mon Feb 15, 2010 7:43 am

Great "ramble", Zavk. :twothumbsup:
We eagerly await more!
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby zavk » Tue Feb 16, 2010 4:59 am

Greetings Ven. I'm glad you found them interesting. I shall present more relevant ideas then.

To clarify: What I'm presenting are not my original arguments. These are basically excerpts from the notes that I've collated about the topic of spirituality. Should anyone be interested in following up on these ideas, my main reference is Carrette and King's Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion. Other texts that have informed my thinking include: Wade Roof Clark's Spiritual Marketplace and Paul Heelas' The New Age Movement. The following books on Buddhism do not engage with the idea of 'spirituality' as such but they are useful in demonstrating how the evolution of contemporary Buddhism is implicated with the evolution of 'spirituality': David McMahan's The Making of Buddhist Modernism and Donald Lopez's Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed.

------------

So to pick up on my previous post. Ignatius of Loyola associated 'the spiritual' with the interiorised activities of the individual. This is an important precursor to the modern understanding of 'spirituality'.

In the 17th century, the French term 'spiritualité' appeared which built on this interiorised understanding of 'the spiritual'. This is well illustrated by the work of Madame Guyon. Writing in the wake of the Reformation, Madame Guyon sought to defend inner authority against the Church. It would perhaps not surprise you that she was branded a heretic and was imprisoned for many years.

But even though 'spiritualité' emerged in the 17th century, it was infrequently used until the second half of the 19th century, where the English equivalent 'spirituality' became more widely used. This late-Victorian period saw burgeoning interest in occultism--in such things as ouija boards, séances, and 'ectoplasm' (did I hear someone say, Ghostbusters?). This was also a time of colonialism which saw a growth of knowledge about the 'exotic' and 'mystical' East. It was at this juncture where Buddhism became intertwined with history of 'spirituality'. The Parliament of the World’s Religions held in Chicago in 1893 and the development of Theosophy illustrate this well.

    - Figures like Swami Vivekananda, Anagarika Dharmapala, and Shaku Soen were invited to the Parliament. There was much interest in these Eastern traditions because they were seen to be provide alternatives to Christianity and also to offer solutions to the social ills of the time. Acting as representatives of their religions, these figures argued in their own way that whilst the West was more materialistically advanced, the East was abundant in spirituality. Now, in making this argument, they were effectively reinforcing the prevalent stereotypes of the time. Romanticist and Orientalist discourses have created the notion of the exotic and mystical East. These sorts of discourses underpinned the paternalistic attitude of European empires towards their Asian colonies.

    However, it is important to note that those figures were not simply playing up to these insidious stereotypes. At the same time, they were also turning the discourses of the colonial masters against them. A typical strategy of these early missionaries was to proclaim the superiority of their religions over not only Christianity but also the secular philosophies of the West. Take Dharmapala for example: he described Buddhism as ‘Aryan psychology’ and praised the Buddha as ‘a scientist full of compassion for all’, while condemning Abrahamic religions for its ‘persecuting spirit’ and Christian theology for ‘its unscientific doctrines of creator, hell, soul, and atonement’ (quoted in Lopez, p. 101).

    The category of 'Eastern spirituality' was thus born. Although it grew out of colonial discourses, it was also articulated as means to invert cultural hierarchy, to resist colonial domination--it should be noted that European countries not only controlled the political and economic resources of the colonies but also sent many Christian missionaries there. The association of 'spirituality' with Eastern traditions would persist till the present age.
    - While Eastern missionaries like Dharmapala tried to associate 'spirituality' with science, others tried to associate it with the occult and mysticism. For example, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, one of the founders of the Theosophical Society, claimed to have received her theosophical teachings from the spirits of enlightened masters from the East. We see here a linking between 'spirituality' and 'spiritualism'--which is the practice of contacting the spirits of the departed via a medium or psychic. 'Spirituality' in this sense was cast in an other-worldly light, and such connotations continue today.

    Yet, for other Theosophists like Annie Besant, spirituality was linked to this-worldly struggles. Besant was a Marxist and an activist leader of the Bloody Sunday demonstration of 1887. She eventually drifted from Marxism as she became more involved in Theosophy. However, her pursuit of social justice continued to inform her pursuit of spirituality. For example, she helped to establish the Central Hindu College in the holy city of Varanasi, a college aimed at building new leadership for India in a time of growing anti-colonial sentiment.

--------------------------------------------------
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby zavk » Tue Feb 16, 2010 5:00 am

So we can see from the examples above that even though the same word 'spirituality' was used, it meant different things for different people--for some it was a this-worldly pursuit for others it was a kind of other-worldly pursuit. But regardless of how it was conceptualised, 'spirituality' was also associated with anti-establishment, anti-colonial sentiments.

Again, we see that 'spirituality' emerges out of the network of power relations and social struggles.

The notion of 'spirituality' that was articulated at this time carried forward two features which had previously been articulated in the West by Romanticism in the late 18th century:

- one feature was the rejection of materialism expressed with recourse to the ‘mystical’ traditions and cultures of Asia

- the other feature was the celebration of the creative genius of the individual.

So the notion of 'individualised spirituality' began to crystallise. Yet, even though spirituality was conceptualised in individualist terms, it was still socially-engaged. As Carrette and King writes: '

Such an orientation is clearly not in itself incompatible with a socially engaged perspective, but it becomes so once ‘the individual’ is conceived as an independent, autonomous and largely self-contained entity within society. (p. 41)



It was the rise to cultural dominance of the 'science' of psychology in the 20th century that would consolidate 'spirituality' around the notion of a hermetically-sealed individual. This in turn would lead to the capitalist exploitation of 'spirituality'. I suspect this the kind of spirituality that most people are uncomfortable with--and with good reasons. Buddhism, unfortunately, is implicated in this trend of individualist/capitalist spirituality.

OK, back to work now. Will post again.

[BTW, in naming those figures above, I'm not suggesting that they single-handedly influenced the course of 'spirituality'. These figures mere exemplify the 'high points' of the trends that emerged gradually over time.]
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